Germany: Fascism is Booming

The crisis of capital is driving masses of voters to the AfD – even if influential capital managers publicly polemicize against right-wing extremists.

04.05.2024, Tomasz Konicz, translated by OlIver Blackwell

There are indeed fascistic definitions of fascism. These views, most prevalent among the brown decay products of old leftist currents, see fascism, which is often driven by conspiracy mania, as a conspiracy itself. The basic idea is that the evil rich, acting in the background, use fascist straw men to set the good poor against each other in order to profit from it or to secure their rule.[1] Such pseudo-leftist conspiracy beliefs are usually an expression of a right-wing hegemony that has already been largely achieved. It gains popularity in the final phase of the fascization of a society, when even its opponents are unconsciously caught up in it.

Link: https://exitinenglish.com/2024/05/04/fascism-is-booming/

The historical model for these ideologemes goes back to the rise of fascism in the first half of the 20th century. While the Nazis hallucinated the world as an absurd “Jewish-Bolshevik world conspiracy,” in which Soviet Bolsheviks and American finance capitalists were said to be pulling the strings together, the Dimitroff thesis, popular under Stalinism, saw the finance capitalists behind fascism. The definition, named after the Bulgarian communist Georgi Dimitroff and which became the canon of orthodox Marxism-Leninism, defined fascism as the “terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and imperialist elements of finance capital.”[2]

At the moment, however, it seems that Dimitroff’s thesis has been turned on its head, as it is precisely the “elements of capital” that are publicly positioning themselves against the threat of fascism. The president of the Federation of German Industries (BDI), Siegfried Russwurm, issued an urgent warning against the AfD at the end of December, calling it a “party that is detrimental to the future of our country.”[3] Voting for the right-wing extremist movement is not a “harmless” protest, because Germany lives “on cosmopolitanism and international trade,” Russwurm warned. With this, the capital functionary contradicted the common, long-standing trivialization of the AfD as a mere “protest party.”

“Poison for the Location”

Wolfgang Große Entrup, Managing Director of the German Chemical Industry Association, called the AfD “poison” for Germany as a business location and a major “threat to Germany” that even overshadows “high energy prices” and “excessive bureaucracy.”[4] According to the capital functionary, it would be “fatal” if the “right-wingers in Germany,” who are currently only “occasionally in power,” were to gain further momentum in the 2024 election year, arguing that the “growing number of indifferent people” should be motivated to “vote for an open society.” Former Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser, who has warned of the danger of the AfD on several occasions, expressed similar sentiments at the end of December.[5] The prominent industrial manager expressed his concern for the continued existence of democracy in the Federal Republic of Germany, as the majority of Germans would no longer support its preservation – with Kaeser openly drawing parallels to 1933.

Capital functionaries have sporadically taken a stance against the AfD in recent years, including Kaeser[6] and the presidents of the BDI, who criticized the impending “retreat into nationalism” in 2017,[7] or described the right-wing party’s platform as “poison for us as an export nation” back in 2016.[8] Nevertheless, the Handelsblatt complained in mid-2023 that while many “business leaders” harshly criticized the policies of the traffic light coalition, for example on energy issues, they would hardly take a stand against the AfD.[9] There is a “conspicuous silence” here, although “no other party” “defames and discriminates against people who think differently” to such an extent. A corresponding “discourse” has long since been set in motion, which is also eating into the “variously positioned companies with their millions of employees.”

Mövenpick in Buttermilk[10]

High energy prices are more important to Germany’s captains of industry than the high poll ratings of right-wing extremists. Russwurm & Co. are functionaries of capital, not politicians. But why are several business representatives suddenly criticizing the AfD? The public managerial intervention against the rising tide of fascism effectively looks like damage control and image cultivation. Not so long ago, it became known that billionaire and dairy producer Theo Müller (Müllermilch, Weihenstephan, Landliebe, among others) met with AfD leader Alice Weidel in Cannes last fall to discuss the program of the movement,[11] which is constantly drifting to the right. According to a statement from Müller, the dairy billionaire was unable to find “the slightest hint” of Nazi ideology in a party that even the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which produced Hans-Georg Maaßen,[12] largely classifies as “definitely right-wing extremist.”[13]

At first glance, these seem to be different political views, even among the ruling elites, pointing to the political division of the crisis-ridden metropolitan societies. Müller, who is said to have financed the right-wing populist “Republicans” back in the 1980s,[14] simply seems to have a similar personal preference for right-wing movements as the German “Mövenpick billionaire” Baron August von Finck, who lives in Switzerland and is said to have financed the AfD during its rise.[15] The big difference between the hotel chain owner Baron von Finck and the dairy prince Müller is that the Swiss tax exile went to great lengths to maintain secrecy, while Müller acts openly and has even announced further talks with Weidel. This open chumminess between a billionaire and the leadership of a party that is drifting towards fascism is indeed tantamount to a further breach of the dam.[16] This also explains the violent reactions of managers and BDI officials, who are worried about, among other things, the international reputation of Germany as a business location.

Brown Movement in Crisis

Something begins to slip when German billionaires begin to openly absolve the AfD of Nazi ideology, while someone like Björn Höcke is elected as the top candidate in Thuringia. The right-wing parties that are making inroads in many western core countries are not test-tube products, they are not political dummies behind which reactionary “finance capitalists” pull the strings, even if they may receive start-up funding from reactionary billionaires. They are real, genuine mass movements in authoritarian revolt, driven by an extremism of the center.[17] And they are usually perceived as disruptive factors by the functional elites in business and politics – especially when they are in their start-up phase.

These pre-fascist movements are the brown outflow of the crisis process that is driving the capitalist world system towards collapse.[18] Fascism is above all a crisis ideology. The economic and ecological dimensions of the systemic crisis are fueling its political boom. The AfD’s electoral successes are therefore merely an expression of the reactionary dynamic that is emerging at the heart of society in response to its crisis-ridden upheavals. Authoritarian personalities who cling to a society in disarray are particularly susceptible to this extremism of the center, which paradoxically speaks of overthrow in order to return to the good, old, “racially pure” times. The parallels drawn by Kaeser with 1933 are therefore entirely appropriate, for the Nazi seizure of power would have been unthinkable without the global economic crisis of 1929.

Fascism can be seen as a terrorist form of capitalist rule that emerges out of crisis as an attempt to maintain the capitalist system through barbaric methods and delusional ideology, even when it threatens to collapse due to its contradictions. However, the social and ecological crisis that is gripping the late capitalist world system is much deeper than the world economic crisis of 1929. The central difference is that it has become impossible to resolve the contradictions and the crisis of capital through a new model of accumulation that sucks in masses of profitable labor (like postwar Fordism), not even through a war economy. So there can only be a prolongation of the crisis, not a solution to it. It is no coincidence that even the bourgeois press is now talking about multiple crises, although they remain misunderstood.

Every new social upheaval gives new impetus to this reactionary, far-right dynamic, whose rise has been fueled by the crises of the past two decades: Hartz IV and the Sarrazin debate, the financial and euro crises, the refugee crisis, the climate crisis and the climate movement, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, inflation and stagnation. What exactly drives right-wing and far-right ideology to extremes in times of crisis? On an identitarian level, it is national identity; on an ideological level, it is capitalist competitive thinking, which is enriched with nationalism and racism.

The ideological reflex is always the same, as we saw during the Sarrazin debate:[19] A crisis surge is attributed to the hallucinated racial or cultural inferiority of the victims of the crisis. The causes of the crisis are thus personalized: The unemployed are to blame for impoverishment and unemployment, the southern Europeans for the euro crisis, the Arabs for war and state collapse in their region, the climate kids for fomenting panic and ruining our economy, and so on. These are the typical right-wing narratives, most of which go hand in hand with structurally anti-Semitic conspiracy ideologies (e.g., conspiracies about banking and financial crises, the pandemic, or the climate crisis). The deal that fascism offers to wage earners is simple: without the foreign groups who are labeled as boogeymen and who are not counted as part of the national collective (the unemployed, foreigners, etc.), we will have enough, even in times of crisis.[20]

The crux of the matter is that this authoritarian revolt will never come to power unless a substantial part of the ruling elite chooses this fascist option. Hence the intervention of the BDI and the public criticism of the AfD by top managers, since the billionaire Mr. Müllermilch could have read the party’s program on the Internet and is probably more interested in exploring the modalities of a possible AfD government policy. There are signs of an open split within the German ruling elite regarding the government participation of a party that is drifting to the extreme right – this was last the case during the euro crisis.[21] This is the decisive breach in the dam, because the Nazis were not a “party of chauvinist finance capital” either, but they would never have remained in power without the consent of powerful capital factions, without Potsdam Day.[22]

Export Slump – AfD on the Rise?

This is where the Dimitroff doctrine mentioned at the beginning becomes fully recognizable as an ideology, as a false consciousness that contains a core of distorted reality: Fascist movements come to power only in times of crisis, when the shocks and upheavals have reached such proportions that functional elites perceive these movements as the “lesser evil.” To put it vividly: only when capital managers are so deeply mired in the crisis that they are up to their necks in water do they hold their noses and reach out to the far right. And then there is no stopping them, because the fascist authoritarian revolt, which always craves the approval of the authorities, is fueled even more by this (which, by the way, also nullifies the left’s intention to shake up its supporters by exposing the powerful fascist backers. Authoritarian personalities are not deterred, but rather are attracted by the cronyism of AfD functionaries and billionaires).

In times of crisis, the reactionary vanguard within the functional elite tends to be made up of small business owners and SMEs, as can be seen from the links between the association of “family entrepreneurs” and the AfD.[23] Capitalists focused on the domestic market, such as Baron von Finck or Mr. Müller, also seem more inclined to consider far-right options than export entrepreneurs. The faction of capital that is most resolutely opposed to the AfD’s participation in government is therefore the German large-scale and export-oriented industry. It is precisely the globally active big business that tends to think strategically, that has to compete for top talent, that has also built up global production chains in the era of globalization and that has to worry about its image as the world’s export champion in its sales markets. It is not only personal political preferences, but also – and above all – tangible economic interests shaped in the era of globalization that have prompted the BDI and Siemens to harshly criticize the AfD.

And it is precisely the German export industry that is currently experiencing a downturn,[24] which actually marks only the beginning of the end of the export-driven German economic model.[25] The sharp decline in exports in 2023 has contributed significantly to Germany’s poor economic performance, which is unlikely to improve in the coming years.[26] There is a good reason for this: the economic dimension of the crisis that has gripped the global system[27] appears to be a crisis of overproduction, which has led to the accumulation of ever larger mountains of debt, with which a commodity production choking on its own productivity could be maintained “on credit.”[28] In the era of globalization, after the internal devaluation caused by Hartz IV and Agenda 2010, Germany managed to export the consequences of this systemic crisis – such as deindustrialization, debt and unemployment – through export surpluses. But this will soon come to an end, as protectionist measures are now increasingly being implemented worldwide. The United States in particular, as one of Germany’s most important trading partners, is increasingly resorting to protectionism,[29] turning globalization into a process of deglobalization[30] (not unlike the protectionist response to the crisis of the 1930s).

But this also means that Germany’s years of prosperity, made possible by export surpluses, will inevitably come to an end. The power-political weight of the German export industry will therefore diminish at a time when, for the first time in a long time, Germany is also entering a prolonged period of crisis, from which the New Right threatens to benefit once again. The AfD is already the second strongest force. The fact that the rise of the AfD took place during a period of relative economic prosperity shows just how thin the civilizational ice is in Germany; it was fueled by German fear of a crisis, not by an actual outbreak of crisis, as southern Europe had to endure during the euro crisis. Since the refugee crisis, the entire bourgeois-liberal anti-fascism, which has largely been in line with the arguments of the export industry, has emphasized the economic “usefulness” of globalization, open borders for the movement of goods and immigration. Refugees are economically useful because of Germany’s aging population, and the export country must remain attractive to skilled workers, at least according to the common arguments.

However, these narratives cultivated in the liberal mainstream will disappear as soon as stagnation and recession become entrenched in Germany, and exports will continue to decline, further fueling the “German fear” that so easily turns into hatred of the socially disadvantaged. Perhaps now is the last historical moment to prevent the AfD from marching to the far right, before pre-fascism is back by permanent stagflation.[31] Focusing on the anti-fascist struggle in broad alliances, calling for prohibition procedures and, above all, aggressively searching for systemic alternatives[32] to the escalating permanent capitalist crisis should now really be a priority for all non-fascist forces in Germany. Maybe it is not yet too late.

For more, see Tomasz Konicz’s most recent publication on the subject: the e-book “Fascism in the 21st Century: Sketches of the Looming Threat of Barbarism.” https://www.konicz.info/2024/01/13/e-book-faschismus-im-21-jahrhundert/

[1] This belief in conspiracy often goes hand in hand with the trivialization or legitimization of fascist violence, especially among right-wing, old-left Querfronter, if it is only committed by socially underprivileged right-wing extremists. Here is an example from the magazine Konkret (12/2022), which is quite willing to be lenient in the case of pogroms and arson attacks if the Nazi only claims to be plagued by “fears of social decline”: “Those who are kept so busy with trips to the office, work and fears of social decline that they can’t think can only be blamed to a limited extent if they act out what public speech and government policy claim: namely that migrants are not people.”

[2] https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/dimitrov/works/1935/08_02.htm

[3] https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/bdi-warnung-afd-100.html

[4] https://www.welt.de/wirtschaft/article249146036/Standort-Krise-Noch-gefaehrlicher-fuer-Deutschland-ist-das-Gift-der-AfD.html

[5] https://www.faz.net/aktuell/wirtschaft/der-fruehere-siemens-chef-joe-kaeser-sorgt-sich-um-die-demokratie-19401907.html

[6] https://www.stern.de/wirtschaft/news/joe-kaeser-ueber-die-afd-ich-kann-intoleranz-und-ausgrenzung-nicht-ausstehen-8557180.html

[7] https://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/unternehmen/bdi-chef-dieter-kempf-gegen-afd-schaden-vom-standort-deutschland-abwenden-a-1169718.html

[8] https://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/politik-der-afd-ist-gift-fur-uns-als-exportnation-3762061.html

[9] https://www.handelsblatt.com/meinung/kommentare/kommentar-afd-umfragehoch-das-schweigen-der-wirtschaft/29192600.html

[10] TN: Mövenpick is a corporation that owns hotels and produces expensive ice cream. They financed the AfD in its early days. The Müller company’s most popular product, müllermilk, is a buttermilk with way too much sugar in it. This section title is supposed to invoke disgust, by comparing the AfD to a very sweet concoction.

[11] https://www.konicz.info/2016/08/01/die-bewegung-als-bewegung/

[12] https://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/hans-georg-maassen-innenministerium-verweigert-auskunft-ueber-ex-verfassungsschutzpraesident-a-5fc25a9d-f553-4dd9-a142-ada63e0c9838

[13] https://www.rnd.de/politik/afd-und-junge-alternative-wo-gelten-sie-als-gesichert-rechtsextrem-und-was-bedeutet-das-BEOYLLR67FCABBNQ6ESSRUZJWM.html

[14] https://www.fr.de/wirtschaft/muellermilch-bleibt-rechts-92707167.html

[15] https://www.konicz.info/2017/09/14/die-masken-fallen/

[16] https://www.merkur.de/politik/hoecke-ist-spitzenkandidat-der-thueringer-afd-zr-92681629.html

[17] https://www.konicz.info/2016/08/01/die-bewegung-als-bewegung/

[18] https://konkret-magazin.shop/texte/konkret-texte-shop/66/tomasz-konicz-kapitalkollaps?c=10

[19] https://www.konicz.info/2010/09/21/sarrazins-sieg-11/

[20] Leo Löwenthal already described these patterns of argumentation in his study “False Prophets” among fascist agitators in the United States in the first half of the 20th century. Leo Löwenthal, False Prophets, Studies on Fascist Agitation, Suhrkamp, 2021

[21] https://www.konicz.info/2017/09/14/die-masken-fallen/

[22] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potsdam_Day

[23] https://blog.campact.de/2016/08/reich-maechtig-im-zentrum-der-hauptstadt-die-lobby-der-superreichen-firmenerben/

[24] https://www.tagesschau.de/wirtschaft/konjunktur/aussenhandel-export-import-china-usa-deutschland-100.html

[25] https://www.konicz.info/2012/12/21/der-exportuberschussweltmeister/

[26] https://www.tagesschau.de/wirtschaft/konjunktur/konjunktur-deutschland-diw-oecd-100.html

[27] See also: Claus Peter Ortlieb (2008): A Contradiction between Matter and Form, https://mediationsjournal.org/articles/matter-and-form and Robert Kurz (2012): The Climax of Capitalism, https://exitinenglish.com/2022/02/17/the-climax-of-capitalism/

[28] https://oxiblog.de/die-mythen-der-krise/

[29] https://www.konicz.info/2023/11/28/transatlantische-entkopplung/

[30] https://www.konicz.info/2023/11/20/neue-kapitalistische-naehe-2-0/

[31] https://znetwork.org/znetarticle/back-to-stagflation/

[32] https://exitinenglish.com/2023/03/08/radicalism-vs-extremism/

Originally published on konicz.info on 12/26/2023

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